“Organic”, “Green”, “Sustainable”: Who Can You Trust?
Picture this: you’re strolling through your local grocery store. Walls of colour hug you and your cart as you scan eagerly for something delicious, yet healthy.
Suddenly, you pause. That's it!
An earthy green package with a hearty farmer calls out to you: “All natural! Sustainably produced!” That must be healthy－right? It certainly looks delicious.
Beware: only one of those statements is likely to be true. Labelling and packaging often does not mean that the food inside is really natural, sustainably produced, or even healthy to eat. This phenomenon is known as greenwashing.
Greenwashing refers to the elements in advertising or information about food to give the impression of environmentally friendly and healthy food. These elements often manifest in the form of colours, slogans, and logos.
Consider Frito-Lay’s Natural Lay’s Potato Chips. The package is earth-toned and advertises the product’s expeller-pressed sunflower oil and sea salt. The chips appear thicker, and heartier. But if you read the nutrition label, it shows the same grams of fat and same number of calories as regular Lay’s potato chips. Oil is still oil, and salt is still salt.
Greenwashing practices like this unfortunately exist in companies all over, and not only with food products. There are all sorts of nonfood products that similarly make organic claims, including textiles, household cleaners, personal care products, and more. Although their packaging appears to promote a healthy lifestyle, their use of the word “organic” is significantly less meaningful when used on nonfood products and more subject to abuse.
The solution to defend against greenwashing is to become a more aware consumer. Reading ingredient lists and looking out for trustworthy certifications are two ways of doing so.
According to Canada’s Organic Products Regulations, it is legally required that organic products be certified according to the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) if they are traded across provincial or international borders, or use the Canada Organic Logo. Therefore, seeing this logo branded on product packaging is one sure way to ensure the integrity of organic products.
If you see another logo claiming to be organic, it would do you well to research it. Become acquainted with labels, certifiers, and companies in the natural food sector. A few years ago in the United States, a company named Tested Green was exposed for false claims. It turned out that companies were buying the Tested Green label for $200 to $500. No real certification process was involved.
Therefore, being an aware consumer also means keeping an eye out for claims that are unsupported or uncertified:
- In Canada, the “100% organic (product name)” claim is not permitted. All products with an organic content of 95% or greater are considered organic, and can simply be labelled with the word “organic”.
- Since all organic products must be certified by a CFIA-accredited certification body in Canada, products claiming to be “certified organic” are misleading, as it implies to consumers that products not bearing this claim are not certified.
- The claims “made with organic ingredients” or “made with organic (naming the ingredient)” are also not acceptable, because it isn’t clear how much of the product is made with organic ingredients. Exact quantities must be indicated in the ingredient list.
Another label you can trust is the FAIRTRADE Mark. This mark is one of the world’s most recognized and trusted ethical product labels, and GCC brands it on all of its cotton t-shirt products! It indicates that the producer at the start of the supply chain was paid and treated fairly. Other fair trade labels that are third-party certified do exist; but just like with organic labelling, be conscious of which companies and packaging claims to trust.
Curious about more labelling red flags? Read more on labelling and organic claims on food labels from the Government of Canada.